Real Madrid’s lead at the top of La Liga slipped to just one point on Sunday night, as a late strike from Santi Mina cancelled out a Sergio Ramos penalty to secure an unlikely point for a struggling Celta Vigo side.
?The home side looked unsure of themselves and off the pace from the get go, and though they dominated play, they were punished for a poor start when Iago Aspas picked out Fyodor Smolov, who kept his composure to get the better of ?Thibaut Courtois.
Toni Kroos would get ?Real level with a swept low finish after the break, but that came only after a stunning Courtois stop denied Joseph Adoo and ?Ramos had seen a goal chalked off for offside, in what was fast transforming into an eventful encounter.
A Ramos penalty then gave the hosts a somewhat fortuitous lead after Ruben Blanco had clumsily taken out Eden Hazard on the edge of his six-yard box, but Real’s failure to create any further chances was punished with aplomb when substitute Santi Mina raced through to fire in an equaliser that silenced the Bernabéu.
Having watched Barcelona conquer Getafe a day earlier to go level on points at the top, Real could not find another goal to stretch the lead back to three, and what has so far been a self-destructive title race once again sits on the edge of a knife.
Key Talking Point
Zinedine Zidane brought Eden Hazard back into his starting XI for the first time since November, as he made up one third of a formidably experienced forward line which also featured the prolific Karim Benzema and the enigmatic Gareth Bale.
For all their firepower, though, they were astonishingly passive for long spells, and took until the second half to get going. Smolov’s first goal for Celta summed up a first half that fell somewhere in between ‘lethargic’ and ‘abysmal’, as the back line failed to meaningfully engage Aspas or drop off enough to limit the country park of space available to the scorer.
They improved after the break and got themselves into a winning position, but their failure to create anything of note came back to bite them as substitute Mina struck late.
With a massive couple of weeks coming up, the necessity of lifting their game will not be lost on Zidane’s men, whose lead at the top of La Liga looks immeasurably more fragile than it did a week ago.
Starting XI: Courtois (7); Carvajal
Real struggled to get themselves up for this one, and it’s a game they almost certainly would not have taken anything from had their man between the sticks not been an imposing force throughout.
Courtois taking that pass on his chest for no reason whatsoever other than that he’s feeling himself is a mood
— Managing Madrid (@managingmadrid) February 16, 2020
La Liga’s player of the month for January had no chance with the either goal but a world class stop prevented the second before the break, and his self-assured presence was a calming influence throughout.
Starting XI: Blanco
Subs: Sisto (5), Suárez (7), Mina (7)
Real Madrid have six days to catch their breath before travelling to face Levante on Saturday, followed swiftly by a return to Champions League action against Manchester City.
Celta, meanwhile have a potential relegation six-pointer with Leganés next weekend.